Did Muslim Warriors Rape Female Captives?

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted from Did the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) allow Muslim Soldiers to Rape Female Captives? by Ustadz 'Umar Dunlap.

Anti-Islamists often raise the point of contention that there are several ahadits and ayat which seem to allow men to take female captives in war and have sexual relations with them, even against their will.  They often point to Qu’ran verses such as the following:

Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess... (Surah an-Nisa’:24)

The words that are translated into English in that verse as “those whom your right hands possess” is the Arabic phrase maa malakat aymanukum and in the classical Arabic it is a polite term for slaves captured in war.  Thus the above verse is forbidding men to have an intimate relationship with married women, unless those women are war captives.  Here, men are seemingly given the permission to have sex with slave-women, whether married or unmarried.  It is easy to take this verse out of its context and say Islam does not respect women’s rights and allows men to take them as slaves and force themselves on them.

The Historical Context

The first recipients of the Message of Islam had a custom of taking women captives of war.  Islam did not invent this practice.  This custom of having sexual relations with slave girls was practiced by virtually every culture at the time.  The wars in the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula were on a tribal basis and when the men were killed their women were taken and undoubtedly were treated quite inhumanely.

The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was sent to abolish all of that which was inhumane and degrading to mankind.  He (s.a.w.) said, “I have been sent to make perfect the moral character.”  Having the task of eliminating this and hundreds of other evils, the Prophet (s.a.w.) could have taken one of two paths.  He could have tried to abolish it at once or to do the same gradually with wisdom.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) preferred the second path because if such a deeply ingrained practice had been abolished at once then thousands of women would have been left to provide for themselves, and the likelihood of Arab men taking ‘damaged goods’ as their wives was unlikely.  The first duty of the Prophet (s.a.w.), then was to establish a more humane and compassionate view of women in his society and gradually teach people to respect and have mercy on the ‘lower classes,’ to forgive people for that which they may have had inflicted on them or for sins they may have committed in their past.  Once the hearts of his followers had reached this level of sublime morality, then steps were taken via Revelations and prophetic instructions to discourage the practice of concubinage so much so that within 100 years of the death of the Prophet (s.a.w.), it had been eradicated from the Arab Peninsula.

We have to consider what the condition of such women would have been had the institution of slavery not been in place.  This was a time before homeless shelters and women’s rights movements.  Imagine a woman whose male family members had all been killed on the battlefield in a decimated and war-torn city.  After the invading armies had left, what was she to do?  How would she support herself?  Islam first dealt with this problem by putting them under the guardianship of Muslim men and mandated that they should treat them kindly, provide them board and lodge and respect them.

The Treatment of Captives

Islam laid down rules which would eventually lead to eradicating the practice.  We cannot deny that Muslims were allowed to have intercourse with slave women taken as captives of just and legitimate wars.  In so doing, however, the woman would automatically become free if she became pregnant.  Furthermore, her child would also become free.

The intimate physical relation, if any, had to be consensual.  For, forcing somebody into such a situation is against the very spirit of Islam.  We see that the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) ordered the Muslims to treat their war-captives fairly and to treat them how they themselves would wish to be treated:

Abu Dzarr (r.a.) narrated that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Feed those of your slaves who please you from what you eat and clothe them with what you clothe yourselves, but sell those who do not please you and do not punish Allah’s creatures.”  This is recorded in Sunan Abu Dawud.

The hadits clearly tells us that if a slave woman does not please her master; refuse to work for him or allow him to lay down with her, the master is supposed to either bare patiently with her, or sell her.  If he will not; he will indulge in something wrong; he may force her into such an action and the hadits terms such an act as ‘punishing Allah’s creatures.’

It is Unlawful to Rape a Slave Girl According to Hadits

The following hadits explicitly states that it is unlawful to force a slave woman into physical relations.  Salamah ibn al-Muhabbaq (r.a.) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) made a decision about a man who had intercourse with his wife’s slave-girl as follows: If he forced her, she is free, and he shall give her mistress a slave-girl similar to her; if she asked him to have intercourse voluntarily, she will belong to him, and he shall give her mistress a slave-girl similar to her.  This is recorded in Sunan Abu Dawud.  Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.) authenticated it in his Majmu’a al-Fatawa saying, “Some have doubted this hadits for its chain but it is hasan.”

This is the most categorical hadits maintaining that forced relationship is forbidden and it makes her free.  Also, it is recorded in Swahih Muslim that The Prophet (s.a.w.) was narrated to have said, “He who slaps his slave or beats him, the expiation for it is that he should set him free.”  When slapping the slave is such a heinous crime in the House of Islam, how can one think that Islam would allow the raping of slave women?

There is also a hadits in Sunan Abu Dawud which mentions that a man forced his slave-girl into prostitution, whereupon Allah (s.w.t.) Sent Down a special revelation of the Qu’ran which stated:

… But force not your maids to prostitution when they desire chastity, in order that ye may make a gain in the goods of this life.  But if anyone compels them, yet after such compulsion, is Allah Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (to them). (Surah an-Nur:33)

The View of the Swahabah

Based on these teachings, the companions of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), particularly his closest companions, considered the practice makruh and this is derived from the fact that the 2nd Caliph, Sayyidina ‘Umar ibn al Khaththab (r.a.) ordered the Muslims to send back female captives of war saying, “I would not like the taking of concubines to become a custom among the Arabs.”  This is related in al-Khilafa wa al-Khulafah ar-Rashidun.  Muslims revere Sayyidina ‘Umar (r.a.).  The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) said of him, “If there were to be any prophet after me, it would be ‘Umar.”

This statement of Sayyidina ‘Umar (r.a.) teaches us two things.  First, it shows that by the time of ‘Umar’s (r.a.) rule, which began within three years of the death of the Prophet (s.a.w.), it was already a custom which was non-existent in Arabia due to the stringent regulations and emphatic teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).  It had been a practice only in Zaman Jahiliyyah.  By the time of Sayyidina ‘Umar’s (r.a.) Caliphate, the practice had been eradicated.  The second thing we learn from this statement of Sayyidina ‘Umar (r.a.), is that the swahabah understood the practice to be something which was heavily frowned upon in Islam to such an extent that the Caliph had the right to forbid it outright.

Slave Rape According to Shari’ah

From the Qu’ran and ahadits, as well as the understanding of the early Muslims, the early schools of law actually stipulated punishments for men who raped female slaves.  Imam Malik (r.a.) wrote in his al-Muwaththa, “In our view the man who rapes a woman, regardless of whether she is a virgin or not, if she is a free woman he must pay a dowry like that of her peers, and if she is a slave he must pay whatever has been detracted from her value.  The punishment is to be carried out on the rapist and there is no punishment for the woman who has been raped, whatever the case.”

Imam Shafi’i (r.a.), was quoted in Kitab al-Umm, “If a man acquires by force a slave girl, then has sexual intercourse with her after he acquires her by force, and if he is not excused by ignorance, then the slave girl will be taken from him, he is required to pay the fine, and he will receive the punishment for illegal sexual intercourse [which is public lashing].”  Imam Shafi’is (r.a.) view was much stricter, as he not only said that the slave girl must be paid restitution, but she is removed from his guardianship, and the offender is to be publically lashed!


In conclusion the following key points are to be remembered: First, this is a practice Islam did not establish, but rather initially highly regulated, and later eradicated.  Both the Qu’ran and ahadits explicitly as well as implicitly forbid the raping of female captives, not to mention the concept of rape is against clearly established principals of the religion.  The companions of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) outlawed the practice of intimate relations with slave girls either toward the end of the life of the Prophet (s.a.w.), or very soon after his death because of his teachings on the subject.  Sayyidina ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) considered the practice detestable and forbade the Muslims from partaking in it.  And, finally, the early scholars considered raping female slaves a crime that carried with it certain corporal punishments.  From these facts and others we could mention but have refrained from due to lack of time and will, we see that the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), far from being the reason for concubinage in the world, was in fact its main opponent and destroyer, for he is truly the mercy to all humankind.


  1. Life is richer for blogs like this.



Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to share our thoughts. Once approved, your comments will be posted.

Popular posts from this blog

In Saudi Arabia, Mawlid is Bid'ah, the King's Birthday is Fine

Singapore Bans Ismail Menk from Entry

Some Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) in Art